FORTVILLE — “Peat.”
It’s been the rallying cry for the New Palestine boys’ tennis team all season. After winning three sectional titles from 2008-10, the Dragons failed to even qualify for the championship round in 2011, bowing out in the semifinals 3-2 to eventual champion Mt. Vernon.
Thus, the goal this season was to start a new streak, instead of repeating as they had in recent years.
With a peak performance, NP got the job done.
New Palestine outlasted Greenfield-Central 4-1 in the sectional finals Friday evening at Mt. Vernon. They advance to Tuesday’s regional at North Central against Lawrence North, who bested Heritage Christian 5-0.
“We’ve got a lot of guys working hard during the offseason, taking lessons from club pros and they’re improving,” said NP coach Chris Hardin, who earned his 100th victory earlier this month.
On Thursday, Hardin’s squad advanced to the finals by topping Mt. Vernon 3-2. G-C moved on by defeating Eastern Hancock 4-1.
Friday, the Dragons (14-3) got off to a hot start, but then had to halt a spirited rally by the Cougars (18-6). They did just that, with help from the smallest player on the hard court.
After straight-set wins by NP’s Connor Swain (No. 3 singles) and Pete Rusche/David Thompson (No. 2 doubles), G-C regained momentum thanks to Max Holtzclaw and Jake Kauth prevailing in two sets at No. 1 doubles.
Then, G-C’s Chris Kersey rallied for a first-set, tiebreak victory over Stratton Smith at No. 2 singles.
At this point, NP’s Brent Barrett was already down a set to Dakota Smith at No. 1 singles. Three weeks ago, Barrett took the first set from Smith at the Hancock County Meet, only to drop the final two in defeat, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4.
The undersized Barrett decided re-write the ending this time around.
Using a combination of court coverage, ball placement and power, the NP sophomore rallied for a 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Dakota Smith.
“I just really wanted to win this time. I didn’t play very well the first time,” Barrett explained. “I just wanted to get back at him.”
Barrett touts his short stature as an advantage, noting that opponents don’t expect him to hit the ball very hard. And though Hardin said Barrett occasionally second guesses himself, he was proud of how his ace recovered Friday night.
“I asked him what the difference was between the first and second set, and he said ‘I just didn’t miss shots. I was keeping it in play.’” Hardin offered. “That was the strategy right there.”
Stratton Smith had a comeback victory himself at No. 2 singles, earning the Dragons’ fourth point with a 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 triumph over Kersey.
G-C coach Jeff Sincroft said that his team could not have played any better than they did Friday night, especially considering he “didn’t know what to expect” entering the 2012 campaign.
“We had struggled for a few years,” Sincroft said. “At the beginning of the season, I told the guys, ‘This is the year when we are going to define where we are going as a program.’”
When his team lost to Mt. Vernon on Sept. 4, Sincroft wasn’t sure if his team would win another conference match. But the blue-and-gold recovered to win its final three Hoosier Heritage Conference tilts to finish at 4-3 in conference play.
“We had a great month of September, peaked at the right time and I couldn’t be happier with how they played this season,” Sincroft offered.
On Thursday, Dakota Smith, Kersey, Brandon Hull (No. 3 singles) and Holtzclaw/Kauth notched victories for G-C.
For two Cougars, their season isn’t over yet.
Holtzclaw and Kauth are still alive in the state tournament and will face MV’s No. 1 doubles team of Ben Bobb and Corey Beck Tuesday at North Central.
Bryce Bobb (No. 1 singles) is also alive in the state tournament but his opponent has yet to be determined.
The Bobbs and Beck were MV’s winners Thursday against NP.
Marauders, Royals search for silver linings after semifinal losses
One year after hoisting the sectional title trophy, Mt. Vernon went home early on its home court Thursday by virtue of its semifinal setback to New Palestine.
MV (8-9) battled injuries — Beck recently returned from early-season knee surgery — this year and finished 2-5 in HHC play.
“I thought even though our record doesn’t say it, we had a good season, not great, but good,” MV coach Gabe Muterspaugh said. “Players are made in the offseason, and I hope our returning guys really fight to improve for next year.”
As for Eastern Hancock, they will return everyone from its squad that was felled 4-1 by Greenfield-Central in the semifinal round Thursday.
The lone winners for the Royals were Kirby Petry and Ignacio Midon, who rallied for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory at No. 2 doubles.
“I am proud of our guy’s performance this season and it is exciting to think they will all be back next year,” EH coach Erin Wolski said.
Tennis sectional No. 39
Friday at Mt. Vernon
New Palestine 4, Greenfield-Central 1
No. 1 singles — Brent Barrett (NP) def. Dakota Smith (GC), 1-6, 6-2, 6-3
No. 2 singles — Stratton Smith (NP) def. Chris Kersey (GC), 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-2), 6-2
No. 3 singles — Connor Swain (NP) def. Brandon Hull (GC), 6-0, 6-0
No. 1 doubles — Max Holtzclaw/Jake Kauth (GC) def. Shayan Khokhar/Evan Poole, 7-5, 6-3
No. 2 doubles — Pete Rusche/David Thomson (NP) def. Luke Vowell/Bailey Hull (GC), 6-1, 6-4